Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, has been selected as the 67th Ringmaster of the Barnum Festival. The Barnum Festival, founded in 1948, is meant to build community spirit, as well as honor Phineas Taylor Barnum, a successful businessman, community leader and world-renowned showman, who was a resident of Bridgeport.
The festival will run from June 12 to 28, and every year a ringmaster is chosen to lead the festivities. The event, which will be held in various locations throughout the greater Bridgeport area, includes the Wing Ding Parade for Kids, the Ringmaster’s Ball, the Barnum Pub Fest, and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony Pops Concert and Skyblast Fireworks.
Hall first joined the Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Steamboat Company in 1976 and became vice president in 1985. He served as a judge on the royal family panel for two years. I recently chatted with Fred Hall about his newly appointed position.
Q. What are the duties and responsibilities of the ringmaster?
A. You are basically the master of all the ceremonies. You’re at almost every event and are the face of the festival. Some specific duties I’ll do is throwing the first pitch at the Long Island Ducks and Bridgeport Bluefish baseball game and putting together a friendly wager between Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport and Mayor Margot Garant of Port Jefferson during the game.
Q. Are you essentially the kickoff for every event?
A. Pretty much. I think I have 16 appearances in the month of June alone. One of the events that is not widely know, we actually go to nursing homes and convalescent homes and we put on small shows for the residents. I know we go to more than 10 homes and we do the show and stop in. For some of these folks it’s the highlight of their year. All the past ringmasters told me that is the most rewarding of all the events.
Q. Can you give me a bit of a preview of the show?
A. No, because rehearsal hasn’t even started yet!
Q. Oh, I see. So when does rehearsal start?
A. We need to find out who the winners of the Barnum’s Got Talent Competition on June 13 are. Right after that we go into rehearsals for the small road shows, with myself, the performers and the royal family.
Q. What exactly is the royal family?
A. The royal family is made up of six members: a king, queen, prince, princess, Tom Thumb and Lavinia. To find the king, queen, prince and princess, we ask for two high school juniors in the top 15 percent of their class, one male and one female, from every school we can get in Connecticut. They go through a two-part process; the first is a panel of judges who asks varying questions to each contestant. The two years I served as a judge, my question was “Who was P.T. Barnum?” Not everyone knows about Barnum, the philanthropist or the inventor. So we have to get the word out! After the panel we hold a social event for them, and we are looking for the kids that are getting other kids dancing and socializing. At the end of that event the judges select a king, queen, prince and princess, and they all get scholarships.
Q. Who are Tom Thumb and Lavinia?
A. They were little people that Barnum employed in his circus, and they were also married. So we have a competition with seven- or eight-year-olds. Interviews happen, they get a tour of the museum, and at the end of the event we chose a Tom Thumb and Lavinia, and they comprise the last two members of the royal family.
Q. Can you tell me a little about some specific events, like the Ringmaster’s Ball?
A. It’s a great social event. Last year there were 500 people. There are cocktails, dinner, dancing; and a lot of people from the area show up. We get numerous politicians; last year Governor Malloy attended. It’s a great event. The tickets are $175, and the money helps support the scholarships we give out every year, as well as the various activities during the festival.
Q. What are you most looking forward to this year?
A. Meeting new people, getting to know the entire royal family. There really are some amazing people involved in this festival, and frankly I am in awe of them. The volunteers as well are terrific people. I can’t emphasize enough how much this festival is about the people.
Q. What was the best piece of advice former ringmasters gave you?
A. Just to relax and enjoy it as much as possible. The previous ringmasters and Elaine Ficarra, executive director of the festival, built a tremendous organization here.
For more information, call 203-367-8495 or visit www.barnumfestival.com.